Wisdom from The Valley

Written by Mary Lieu on the 3rd of August, 2017

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It’s been ten months since the SheStarts journey began and with tonight’s series finale wrapping up our last days in San Francisco, it’s exciting to unpack the key insights we learned.

We spent ten action-packed days immersed in the SF startup ecosystem, meeting and learning from tech giants, local entrepreneurs, investors and experts. We were blown away by each person we met, and their willingness to share knowledge and learnings from their startup journey.

So what were the key insights from Silicon Valley? These were our favourite pearls of wisdom…

1. Listen to your customers

Finding the initial product/market fit for your startup can often feel like a floundering process.

Aravind Krishnaswamy, Engineering Director at Google Photos, is a strong advocate for understanding your customer within their own context. Often you may think you know what your customers are after, but just as often, you could be completely wrong. Aravind suggests: “Meet your users where they are. If your users are confused about why your product is solving that problem, you’re in trouble”.

A user focused design process was also echoed by Brian Katzman, former Marketing VP at Tile:

“Don’t be romantic about product/features. Be dispassionate and let the market tell you what it needs.”

Ultimately, Aravind told us to trust our gut and make sure our decisions were supported with data. He noted: “Data is important but it’s not a substitute for product leadership.

Aravind Krishnaswamy, Engineering Director at Google Photos speaking

Aravind Krishnaswamy speaking at Google

2. Look for skills, not experience

As your startup grows beyond a one or two person powerhouse, building the right team becomes incredibly important. First employees have an incredible amount of influence over the direction and success of a business, which is why founders can often feel lost when it comes to who to hire and what qualities they should be looking out for.

Building a world-class team is what Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Atlassian and one of our incredible SheStarts advisors, is familiar with.

For founders ready to start building their team, Aubrey gave us some advice: “Figure out what you’re not good at and find people who are” and when comparing candidates it’s important to look for the skills you need, rather than experience.

Once you’ve started building your team, maintaining company culture can get a little tricky. Building a consistent culture aligned with your company values is something Aubrey is unwavering on.

“Pick the qualities and principles that matter to you and make them non-negotiable. Culture will grow around your values.”

Gathering at Atlassian San Fransisco

SheStarts cohort & partners with Aubrey Blanche (centre) at Atlassian

3. Communication is key

Moving from startup phase to growth and scale is one of the most exhilarating phases within a business lifecycle. But at the same time, it is also one of the most chaotic and trickiest phases to navigate, and not all startups grow the same way.

When customer interest and engagement increases, startups still need to keep their eye on their existing customer base and make sure that their customer experience doesn’t weaken. As Brian put it:

“Focus on retention over acceleration. It’s easier to retain a customer than to acquire one.”

Brian also told us that while growth is important, it’s equally important to maintain the trust you build with your early adopters and fulfil your brand promise before focusing on growth.

As much as growth is messy, Tamara Mendelsohn, VP and General Manager, Consumer at Eventbrite shared a simple tip for businesses to come out on top.

“Communication is key to overcoming growing pains and maintaining the company’s identity”.

Navigating this phase of the cycle is a delicate balancing act of maintaining focus on your core value proposition and your brand whilst also moving fast to pull the company ahead.

4. Building a company

Founders are out to make lasting businesses. In an industry which is as fast paced as tech, it’s important to stand ahead of the pack. How do you know you’re making the most of your decisions and where do you focus your energy?

Aravind had this to share: “Lean into your strengths. Mitigate the weakness and focus on your strengths.”

Tamara also gave us an easy metric to see if you’re pushing yourself:

“If you’re not making bets that pay off, you’re not making enough bets.”

Tamara Mendelsohn speaking

Tamara Mendelsohn speaking at Eventbrite

Or as Amy Norman, co-founder and co-CEO of Little Passports put it:

“I’m not building a company to sell it, I’m building a company that people will want to buy.”

If you’re getting interest from potential acquirers, you’re doing something right!

Tune into the SheStarts finale tonight – it’s going to be big!

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